Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The High School bully

There are massive differences between the primary school bully and the high school bully and in fact the whole nature of teasing and bullying changes drastically. None of the methods which worked with the primary school bully will work here.

Physical Abuse
High School bullies are generally more verbal and less physical than their primary school counterparts but some bullies become physical within minutes of provocation. The age, and usually greater size, of these bullies means that when they do decide to become physical, they can do a lot of damage. It also doesn't help that bullies are usually not alone.

High school physical abuse moves from having the potential to injure in primary schools to having a slim but increased chance of fatality.

Verbal Abuse
In male bullies, verbal abuse in high school tends to move away from the obvious physical features such as nose size or skin colour which were the target in primary school. Instead, bullying moves into more damaging psychological territory, questioning sexual orientation, intelligence and fashion sense.

That's not to suggest that physical appearance based bullying disappears. It doesn't - and in fact, it may become more intense. The difference is that bullying becomes much more targeted in the teen years and bullies seem to know exactly where their victim's self esteem weak points are.

Female Abuse
Female verbal abuse is far worse than male abuse. Females tend to form cliques (tightly knit social groups with singular communication). The cliques effectively transform a group of taunting voices into a single, much more powerful one. Cliques also tend to last for the remaining years of school and often continue into adulthood.

Typical female categories range from appearance to sexual behaviour and while it's uncommon for physical abuse, it's not unheard of.

Arguably the worst two female bullying techniques are exclusion and rumour-mongering. In exclusion, a female is excluded from various activities, parties, sports and outings. Various excuses are given but most center around the victim's incompatibility with a specific ideal. Appearance, voice, social status and even simply the brand name of their clothing is attacked.

There's no point in rushing around trying to purchase the right brand of clothing in these instances. Once you're a target, you tend to stay a target. Even if you manage to satisfy one criteria, the bullies will quickly find another standard that you fail to measure up to.

This is a usually speciality of female abuse but one of the signs that a "new age of male sensitivity" is upon us is the increasing incidence of this amongst males. Rumour-mongering occurs when a clique makes up a particularly nasty rumour about an individual. For example; that they have slept with half of the boys in the school, that they have a particular STD or that they have some unseen deformity. The clique then ensure that the rumour reaches the widest audience possible before they begin teasing their victim.

One of the worst things about rumour-mongering is that it has the potential to turn non-bullies into bullies. When people hear strange rumours they often can't help their reaction and depending on how they internalise it, they may not look at a person in the same way again. By doing this, they become bullies whether they mean to or not.

It often starts with a week or so of "funny looks", gestures and comments from people which will make the victim feel very uncomfortable but won't provide any framework. The victim won't know why they are suddenly a target of the whole school. When the teasing really starts, it comes from all sides at once and as victim is usually the only one who is completely oblivious to their supposed actions, they are unable to defend themselves or deny the allegations.

Some of the most important lessons that parents can teach their children are;
Don't believe everything you hear
Don't pass judgement on others

Rumour-mongering is one of the worst and most destructive forms of bullying. Unfortunately, it's usually also the one kind of bullying which slips under everyone's "radar" and isn't addressed until it is too late.

The Risks of Non-Physical Abuse
One of the greatest things about physical abuse is that it leaves cuts and bruises. If your child comes home from school with physical evidence on them, you can question them about bullying. You can present that evidence to the school and you can have it dealt with.

Non-Physical abuse is so much worse simply because there are often no visible scars. You may have a "sullen child" who retreats to their room after school and doesn't talk much at the table. Unfortuantely, this doesn't distinguish them much from normal teenagers. Unless you talk to your children in depth about their day, you simply won't know that there is a problem.

As you can imagine, injuries need to be treated. You know what would happen if you didn't deal with the physical trauma which comes from bullying. Those wounds would become infected and wouldn't heal. Similarly, if you don't deal with the bullying itself, then those wounds are going to be continually re-opened with each new bout of bullying.

The same thing happens with non-physical trauma. Each instance of bullying creates a mental wound which if untreated will be continually re-opened and will eventually scar the individual for life. Non-physical abuse is far, far more dangerous than physical abuse and at its extremes it results in suicide or in major lashouts such as some of the revenge-based shooting incidents at schools in the past few years.

Even at the less extreme end of the scale, physical based abuse can turn otherwise good members of society into vengeful and angry people. It can create individuals with major self esteem problems and it can start a chain of abuse that may perpetuate itself for generations.

Non-physical abuse must be dealt with at least as severely as physical abuse.

Dealing with High School Bullying
It's much harder to deal with high-school bullying than primary school bullying because those bullies are older, are less easily intimidated and are usually more careful about hiding their involvement. The victims are also often less inclined to speak out because by then they know that the system affords them little protection.

Some of the best methods for dealing with High School Bullying include;

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind
    Get out of the playground and the cafeteria. Spend your time in quieter, safer surroundings such as libraries. You can do this by becoming a library monitor.

  • Safety in Numbers
    You don't have to be super-smart to join a nerd clique. They're not always about people who love mathematics. Sometimes you just need to like Sci-Fi and sometimes all you need to do is be nice to them and hang out with them. Bullies prefer to pick on individuals and will usually ignore a nerd clique.

  • Backup Friends
    Have backup friends who don't go to your school. Scouts are a good example of this. If things turn ugly at school then at least you'll have a group to fall back on.

  • Parental Involvement
    This point is for parents. Don't go to the school to "sort the bullying out" and don't try to give your child crazy advice about making friends, sucking it up or hitting back. Instead, you need to simply try to be there for your child. Take them out alone, listen to them, treat them like adults and help them to build up their self esteem. There are times when you might just be their only friends in the world so don't let them down.

Next Time
Next time I want to look at bullying outside the school and particularly online.


NiroZ said...

You've missed the most important technique in dealing with bullying and harassment in general. Don't make it appear that they got to you. I'm not talking about ignoring them, figuring out what reaction they want and not giving it to them is another way of putting it. One way of doing this is maintaining a sense of humour. 'What? I'm gay? I had no idea, why don't people tell me these things!'. You can use bully tools against them, such as sarcasm, in order to avoid trick questions.

aspmom said...

Anxious to read your post on bullying outside of the school setting because as homeschoolers we have been able to avoid the kids being bullied.

Then again, siblings act as bullies to one another at times so they are not totally immune!

Anonymous said...

This was hard for me to read. I was physically and verbally abused in high school. It was a nightmare. I went to a private school so because we were in uniforms my clothes were never an issue. But they found 100 other things to go after. It escalated to such an extent that I had refused to return to school. The school officials did nothing to try to protect me. Finally I signed up for martial arts. Once I did (and the bullies realized it) they left me alone. But it took 3 years of hell to get to that point, so I could have my senior year filled with peace.

Unfortunately by that time the damage had already been done, and I just started to let go of some of the extreme hurt these people caused.

Ignoring it doesn't work. Sarcasm doesn't either. Nothing does. The only time I ever had any relief is when I physically fought back. I'm not advocating violence. But I definitely won't stand behind being idle and using self-deprecating humor either.

An Ex-Target said...

Excellent article again on a difficult and emotional subject. I have a couple of observations based on my long years of being bullied (as an undiagnosed and untreated Aspie).

Since I was forbidden to use force in middle school to defend myself, by my parents as well as the school's administrators(neither of whom were ever much help), I ended up using sarcasm, as suggested by NiroZ. Making the bully look stupid was sometimes a good way to get them off my back. It was also a good way to get hit, since bullies, like chimpanzees, are not much in control of their emotional responses (and not very bright either). Still, on balance, it was a technique that worked more often than not.

I often wondered what would have happened if I had taken a martial arts or self-defense course, as Marisa did. I doubtlessly would have ended up seriously hurting someone, but is that necessarily bad? I think the world would be a much better place if a few more bullies got their teeth knocked down their throats.

Sorry if that's not PC, but I lived the nightmare for many years, and I'm not inclined to cut bullies any slack.

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that female bullies start rumor mongering in early primary school. Before the end of my first year my whole school knew I had cooties, a contagious disease which causes many people to taunt you and everyone else to avoid you for fear of catching it. I could never get out from under this beginning.

I wish there had been physical bullying because there would have been proof. I was a rule following Aspie. I reported all bullying to the nearest adult. Unfortunately the ringleader was a teacher's pet. Sweet as sweet can be until the teacher's back was turned.

For over 8 years I was forced to spend my day at a place where the only people who talked where the children who called me stupid, dirty, etc. and the adults that called me a liar.

Sometimes you need to come up with inventive solutions. When I refused to go back to school my mother called the truant officer. Said it was his job to make it safe for me to go to school. After that the school started suspending students that bullied me. The bullying dropped quickly to almost nonexistent.

Another reviewer suggested figuring out what reaction they want and not giving it to them. That might work for NTs. Figuring out what others want is difficult for me as an adult. As an Aspie child or teen with a extremely different world view from the bullies it was impossible. I like sarcasm but have never been able to use it in real time.

Stephanie said...

While I agree there may be little parents can do, I disagree that going to the school is a bad idea. Schools need to be made aware of the bullying that goes on. Not all schools will do something about it, but the more pressure parents and other citizens place on the school the better able we will be to prevent tragedies. Part of the problem is that bullying is allowed; it's tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. If enough social pressure were exerted that bullying wasn't tolerated, then it would be reduced considerably.

Also, another piece of advice that I would offer is for the victim to find support with older kids. Bullies are less likely to target kids who have the support and friendship of older kidsat the same school or who graduated from that school. While it won't eliminate the bullying entirely, it does reduce it and it does add a support point between those issues the child must handle him or herself and those which must involve parents and staff.

Anonymous said...

However, if you choose to become someone like a library monitor or such, it doesn't really help as well, because you are only running away from your problems temporarily. Additionally, and believe me, I am in grade 7, so I should know this, and that's library monitors are regarded as anti-social and "loners", so this is actually adding to the problem, as you can become a target for your social status. A good way to combat bullying (and believe me it works, as I was a victim before) is to make friends (if you you have no friends to begin with) and hang out with them. There is strength in numbers, and also, there will be a decreased chance of bullying as the bully might be scared to bully you with all of your friends with you. Get a Facebook account or something and go to school dances in order to improve your social status. However, one thing I must add is that you can be cyber-bullied on Facebook, and so your plan would backfire. What I suggest is that first, improve your reputation, as some victims of bullying are actually very annoying and are extremely irritating, and then use a social website. Hope this helps.

abner said...

Marvelous! These things are great! I learned a lot about bullies on this post. I came to realize after reading that my children is not that safe to bullying because there are so many forms of bullying that my kids might fall into. The details are more likely complete and informative. Thank you so much! I also wish to share this link where I found other information about bullying.

Anonymous said...

"In exclusion, a female is excluded from various activities, parties, sports and outings. Various excuses are given but most center around the victim's incompatibility with a specific ideal."

Unless a girl invites absolutely every other girl she knows to hang out at her home, come to any birthday parties she has, join any study groups she has, etc. she's got to exclude some girl(s).

Are you trying to argue that every girl who doesn't invite absolutely every other girl she knows to everything she does is a bully? That would be very unfair to girls who want to have friends and spend more time with their friends than with girls who have hit them in the past, girls who have ignored them in the past, etc.

Anonymous said...

"You don't have to be super-smart to join a nerd clique. They're not always about people who love mathematics. Sometimes you just need to like Sci-Fi and sometimes all you need to do is be nice to them and hang out with them. Bullies prefer to pick on individuals and will usually ignore a nerd clique."

...except when the bullies are *in* a nerd clique.

It's totally possible to be homophobic or sexist or racist *and* prefer science fiction and comics to sports and music.

Here are some web pages about the phenomenon: (in this case, the "bully" in the URL's domain name refers to a stuffed animal that looks like a male cow a.k.a. a bull)

Miguel Palacio said...

Bullying in schools is often a preview of what goes on in most jails. Often the authorities look the other way. I know someone who was gang-raped in prison. I've heard all of his stories. A blog post on avoiding very serious bullying in prison may be in order. Stealing of lunch money, stealing of food and clothes and punching and stabbing even in areas monitored by cameras and the guards won't do anything. Right now there's an incidence of putting cockroaches and even rat-poison in people's food in Reikers Island. People for two weeks were forced to only eat out of the vending machines. Live on stuff like candy bars and potato chips alone, if they had money, which is scarce in prison. Law and order puts people in prison, where there is hardly any law and order. People, even people with short sentences can be scarred for life and the state does nothing to right this wrong and society in general doesn't care because there is a general feeling that this is what prisoners deserve to be subjected to the ultimate in bullying. People on the spectrum do particularly poorly in prison. My friend is on the spectrum and he had a particularly big target on him for such abuses. It was horrible and to this day he still gets flashbacks and seems like he has PTSD. He's seeker help, but of his own accord and out of his own pocket. Please do a blog entry on the realities of bullying in prison and the fate of people on the spectrum in prison.